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How Nick Honor’s shot selection hints at a rotation under a bit of strain

The veteran’s rim attacks aren’t the most efficient, but they’re necessary as other Tigers show hesitation or deferrence ahead of a game against Seton Hall.

Missouri v Kansas Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Before Missouri jetted to the Twin Cities to face Minnesota, coach Dennis Gates gave Nick Honor a directive: be a little more selfish.

“He cares what his teammates think,” Gates said. “He cares if he’s viewed as a guy that’s shooting too much. He just doesn’t shoot enough for me.”

A month later, the veteran point guard has undoubtedly complied.

Look no further than MU’s trip to Kansas a week ago. Midway through MU’s opening possession, Honor caught a ball reversal at the top of the key, put his head down, and drove down the left side of the lane. Around the low block, he reached out for an extension finish to keep the trailing Kevin McCullar at bay – only to see it bounce off the heel of the rim.

Unfortunately, it wound up a recurring theme with each thwarted incursion Honor made into the lane.

Yet those struggles are hardly an aberration. Through 10 games, Honor’s converted just 36 percent of shots taken from point-blank range, touches worth 0.720 points a pop, and an efficiency that ranks in the 6th percentile nationally. And assuming he keeps at his current pace, he’ll outpace last season’s volume by nearly 30 attempts.

Admittedly, a more assertive version of Honor is a necessity this season with Kobe Brown in the NBA, DeAndre Gholston balling abroad, and Isiaih Mosley cutting his teeth in the G League. Backfilling nearly 70 percent of scoring that exited Columbia meant constructing a potent offense rooted in balance. The approach also inevitably meant Honor boosting his usage rate to 21.8 percent from 13.0 percent last season.

Still, it’s reasonable to posit this question: Is Honor using Gates’ green light effectively? And before that query is labeled nitpicking, study the chart below, which breaks down Honor’s shot selection.

Shot Selection | Nick Honor | Missouri | 2023-24

Type Shots Points PPS Per Game FG FGA FG% eFG%
Type Shots Points PPS Per Game FG FGA FG% eFG%
Layup 25 19 0.72 2.5 9 25 36 36
Runner 6 6 1 0.6 3 6 50 50
Dribble Jumper - 2FGA 4 4 1 0.4 2 4 50 50
Dribble Jumper - 3FGA 20 21 1.05 2 7 20 35 52.5
Catch-and-Shoot - 3FGA 41 66 1.61 4.1 22 41 53.7 80.5
Total 96 116 1.222 9.6 43 96 44.8 59.9
Data Source: Synergy Sports

When Honor moves off the ball and spaces the floor, he’s knocking down nearly 54 percent of catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts, per Synergy Sports data. And even when he’s getting into his jumper off the dribble, his efficiency (1.050 PPP) still tracks well ahead of the figure (0.919) among other Division-I players. Next, consider that Honor’s boosted efficiency is unfolding while launching more 3-balls – roughly two per game — compared to his first season in Columbia.

Shot Selection | Volume Comparison | Nick Honor

Type 2022-23 2023-24 Change PPS
Type 2022-23 2023-24 Change PPS
Layup 1.4 2.5 1.1 0.720
Runner 0.4 0.6 0.2 1.000
Dribble Jumper - 2FGA 0.4 0.4 0.0 1.000
Dribble Jumper - 3FGA 1.5 2.0 0.5 1.050
Catch-and-Shoot - 3FGA 2.5 4.1 1.6 1.610
All 6.2 9.6 3.4 0.134
Data Source: Synergy Sports

So, Honor managed to copycat D’Moi Hodge’s no-conscience approach when pulling the trigger from a long range. However, it came with the mild side effect of less-than-stellar forays deep into the paint, shots that otherwise obscure Honor increasing his shooting efficiency by 12.3 percent.

So, Honor managed to copycat D’Moi Hodge’s no-conscience approach when pulling the trigger from a long range. However, it came with the mild side effect of less-than-stellar forays deep into the paint.

Fine, you might say. Isn’t this a modest cost of Honor shouldering more of a burden? To some extent, yes. Yet it’s also worth asking how hefty it might be and whether other Tigers are better equipped to carry it.

Syndication: Columbia Daily Tribune Abigail Landwehr/Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

What Can Aidan Shaw and Tamar Bates Provide?

Do me a modest favor.

Call up this clip again and listen as Gates expands his answer beyond addressing Honor’s assertiveness. He talks about Aidan Shaw and the risks he takes to make a play — when MU goes about is work inside the practice gym. Yet the spirit of derring-do doesn’t regularly translate as a public display.

“That has to take place in a game,” Gates said on Nov. 15. “I think he plays safe because he doesn’t want to make mistakes.”

Shaw’s defensive prowess and activity on the glass ushered him into the Tigers’ starting five in the past three games. Offensively, though, the sophomore isn’t even a ghost. With a 6.7 percent usage rate, MU effectively plays some possessions down a man.

As a freshman, Shaw showed a tempered willingness to shoot off the catch. But he didn’t hoist up his first attempt this campaign until Mizzou ventured to Pitt. Now, he is averaging 1.000 PPP when attacking off the bounce — a feat he only performs once every other game.

In a season where we hoped to see Shaw expand his tool kit, he’s leaning harder on the tendencies he showed as a freshman: catching lobs, sprinting in transition, and notching the occasional stickback. That was certainly true inside Phog Allen Fieldhouse, where Shaw finished with four points on 2 of 4 shooting with three rebounds and two blocks.

Going back to review the tape, though, shows Shaw left opportunities unclaimed.

To wit: two missed lobs, a stilted roll, and twice passing up acres of hardwood off the catch. At a minimum, Shaw should have finished with eight points, and the second missed attempt at the cup turned into a four-point swing when KU scored going back the other way. On the first clean catch, made just below the break, there wasn’t a defender nearby to stress him with a closeout. Even if he lacked confidence in his jumper, an open baseline beckoned Shaw to take two dribbles, achieve lift-off, and put his armpit on the rim.

Shaw’s not the sole Tiger who merits a potential critique.

In that same meeting with scribes, he had a similar demand of Indiana transfer Tamar Bates, who he wanted to “selfishly do some things as well.” And the junior’s response? Posting a usage rate (19.2%) not too dissimilar to the one he had before joining Shaw among MU’s starting five.

Moderate as that usage might be, Bates has shown a willingness to apply rim pressure. Per Synergy, roughly 43.4 percent of the junior’s looks come at the rim. But the bulk of those shots are coming in transition, and he’s only amassed six possessions as a driver in spot-ups, pick-and-rolls, and isolations.

And when you watch the former top-30 prospect, there’s the impression he’s still playing a bit tentative.

In each clip, Bates waits too long to decide whether to rise for a jumper or rip through to get two feet in the paint. When he decided to play off the bounce, his defender squared up, and the defense caught up in rotation.

Bates departed from Bloomington to ditch a system that rendered him a stagnant spacer orbiting a big or waiting for a kick out. MU’s system manufactures double gaps and space below the free-throw line, creating an operating room for Bates to exploit. We saw that version of Bates against UAPB, but he’s been more content to swing the ball or hunt pull-ups since the season opener. Undoing engrained habits takes time, but as MU chugs toward SEC play, the urgency for a more assertive version of Bates will only grow.

Since Bates and Shaw earned their promotions, they’ve combined for a 13.2 percent usage. By contrast, Honor and Sean East II, the Tigers’ power train in pick-and-rolls, soak up nearly 26.2 percent of possessions. Ideally, Gates could use Caleb Grill or John Tonje to soak up some of that overflow. Except Grill will miss at least the next four weeks after crumpling his wrist on a dunk attempt against Wichita State. And while Tonje’s foot is healthy, the Colorado State transfer continues to pile up DNPs.

Meanwhile, here’s how the usage picture looks among the top nine members of Gates’ rotation.

Usage: Projection vs. Reality | Missouri | 2023-24

Player %Min Proj. USG% Actual USG% Difference
Player %Min Proj. USG% Actual USG% Difference
Sean East II 82 20 28.9 8.9
Nick Honor 72.5 18 20.8 2.8
Noah Carter 68.8 24 22.1 -1.9
Caleb Grill 49.5 18 20.6 2.6
Aidan Shaw 43 17 10.5 -6.5
Tamar Bates 42.8 19 18.4 -1.5
Anthony Robinson 37.2 21 19.6 -1.4
Connor Vanover 22 20 16.9 -3.1
Jordan Butler 19.2 16 17.1 0.5
Data Source: Matt Watkins/Rock M Nation

Throughout the offseason, MU touted its portal additions as rejuvenating the roster’s backcourt depth. Now, two players are unavailable, while Bates isn’t quite maxing out his touches. As we’ve seen, Honor’s already boosted the output of his best commodity: spot-up 3s. For his part, East is already redlining.

Through that lens, Honor’s rim attempts aren’t the result of forcing the action. They’re potentially a symptom of a backcourt already being stretched thin. While they might not be his bailiwick, those inefficient shots are better than not at all.

Such a compromise might not be tenable much longer.

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina State at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Can the Tigers spread the workload?

Reviewing the lineup shows MU buckling under the strain of Bates and Shaw deferring.

Over the past three outings, quintets featuring that duo alongside Honor and East have only posted 0.984 PPP, per Pivot Analysis. Those combinations only muster 0.96 PPS at the rim, an efficiency dip of 8.6 percent. Collectively, they generate fewer trips to the free-throw line.

Lineup Performance | Honor, East, Bates, Shaw On Court

Opponent Poss. Scored Allowed Margin PPP Opp. PPP Net
Opponent Poss. Scored Allowed Margin PPP Opp. PPP Net
Pittsburgh 14 11 14 -3 80.69 102.69 -22.01
Wichita State 14 14 6 8 101.41 43.46 57.95
Kansas 24 26 29 -3 106.62 118.93 -12.31
Total 52 51 49 2 98.41 94.55 3.85
Data Source: Pivot Analysis

While those lineups thrived against Wichita State, that’s balanced against a minus-15.8 net rating in 38 possessions of floor time on road trips to Pitt and KU. Subtracting East from the mix also causes the bottom to fall out offensively. In 17 possessions, lineups with Honor, Bates, and Shaw have only scraped together 0.538 PPP, according to Pivot’s data.

Even the presence of a vet like Noah Carter on the floor can’t help MU’s offensive efficiency (0.908 PPP) and net rating (-15.2) toward breaking even. As the Tigers enter the final leg of non-conference play, there’s also the possibility that Connor Vanover’s ramp-up eases some of the strain.

In Lawrence, Gates turned toward youth to help patch his roster over, but the freshmen looked like, well, freshmen.

A couple of weeks ago, we wondered if Anthony Robinson II might find a way to expand his role. But last week, he fouled a shooter while closing out a shooter and saw a layup attempt rudely rejected when he coasted in the open floor. As for Trent Pierce, he was beaten off the dribble twice in the middle of the floor, clanked two open catch-and-shoot 3s, and committed a pair of turnovers. That fits the broader theme of MU lacking enough clinical edge to make the Jayhawks feel game pressure.

Ahead of today’s meeting with Seton Hall, Gates issued an edict similar in tone to the one he struck a month ago. “We have the depth that allows us the opportunity to get through what every team goes through,” he said. There might not be a better day than this one for Bates and Shaw to meet the moment: a homecoming to Spring Center.

Applying rim pressure might be rough sledding today against the Pirates, but Honor’s rim attempts don’t require a straight swap. But that doesn’t mean the likes of KC-area natives can’t show a greater willingness or assertiveness in cashing in the opportunities that flow their way.

And let Honor spend more time strafing defenses from long range.